Brigadier John Burns, DSO, MBE
John ‘Blackie’ Burns was born in Napier in 1917 and educated at St Patrick’s College in Wellington (including four years with the school’s cadets). In 1936, he attended the Royal Military College in Duntroon, Australia, graduating in 1938. It was here that he earned the nickname ‘Blackie’.
In 1942, during the Battle of El Alamein (with 30 Battery, 6 Field Regiment), he was captured and later imprisoned in Northern Italy. Three times he escaped from prisoner of war camps, the third time successfully. He then spent nine months ‘on the run’ and was later given sanctuary in the Santa Maria dell’ Anima Monastery in Rome before rejoining the New Zealand Division at Sora in June 1944. After recuperating in England, he served with the 5th and 6th Field Regiments and 7 Anti-Tank Regiment. In 1945 he was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).
Later in 1953 Blackie saw 12 months action in Korea which earnt him the DSO for his efficient and courageous work in directing artillery fire when the enemy breached the Allied positions during the heavy fighting preceding the signing of the Armistice.
When Blackie retired from the Regular Force in 1973, he was New Zealand’s longest serving soldier of the time and he later continued his service as the Colonel Commandant of the RNZA from 1975 until 1981.
Brigadier Blackie Burns also served as a Trustee on the Board of the National Army Museum and was a driving force behind the establishment of the Kippenberger Military Archive and Research Library whereby his dream was realised in March 1995 when the stunning new facility was opened. This passion as a ‘bibliophile’ remained strong until his death in January 2003.
John Blackie Burns was a man of many aspects – he was a decorated soldier, an accomplished painter, an internationally published author and a dedicated family man. As Major General ‘Scotty’ Gordon noted in his eulogy, “He was a noble and remarkable man.”